Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: IN THE WOODS by Tana French

Although long, IN THE WOODS is a cracking read. I have often read the word “unputdownable” to describe a book, but in this case it is true: I was glad I started the book on a weekend and had no other commitments, so I could finish it in a day. Adam Ryan has fulfilled his lifelong ambition to become a detective in the Irish police force. But because of a tragic event in his childhood, in which two of his friends vanished, never to be found, he calls himself “Rob” Ryan and does not reveal his past. He’s best friends in a platonic way with fellow-detective Cassie, and near the start of the book the partners take on a case of a young girl who has been found murdered at an archaeological site – in the very same woods where Rob’s friends had disappeared more than 20 years ago. Rob feels compelled to investigate the case as he’s convinced it must have something to do with the earlier tragedy: so he persuades Cassie, who knows his secret, not to confide in their superiors. Most of the rest of the book describes the details of the police investigation: the interviews of the idealistic archaeologists who are hurrying to complete their excavation before a new motorway is built; the residents of the nearby estate where the girl lived; and local businessmen who have been threatening the dead girl’s father, who heads up the protest group to try to stop the motorway from being built. Events are filtered through Rob’s vision, so the reader experiences his panic and paranoia about the case, and his increasing sense of unease. Rob is close to Cassie, but keeps her at arm’s length. He lives in a flat rented from an ex-girlfriend, who is presented in an unflattering light – but Rob liked her well enough once, and the reader is aware that events in Rob’s past seem to inhibit him from being able to relate not only to girlfriends but also to his parents and his police colleagues. The phrase “screwed up” seems designed to apply to Rob. IN THE WOODS is a long book, but does not fall for the easy solution of providing more bodies to help the detectives solve the crime, and sustains a high level of relentless tension throughout. In fact, the villain is easy for the seasoned reader to identify, but even so this does not matter, as the way in which the case is solved is chillingly suspenseful, and the writing style superb (although one of my pet hates of crime-fiction, the “fine-tooth comb” makes a couple of appearances). The conclusion of the case is pretty downbeat. It is always hard to review crime fiction books in much detail without giving the game away, but almost everyone ends up being disappointed in some way; even though the case of the young girl is solved in the sense of the murderer being identified, the story surrounding her death is genuinely creepy. I was sorry that the older mystery was left in the way that it was, but maybe we will find out more if Rob Ryan returns in future. It isn’t clear that he will, however: Tana French's next book, THE LIKENESS (not yet published) will feature Cassie, who although secondary to Rob in IN THE WOODS, is certainly sufficiently intriguing to justify being a more central character in future. I’m looking forward to finding out what she does next, although I’d be disappointed not to find out any more about poor, sad Rob.- Maxine Clarke

Maxine blogs at Petrona. Her reviews are collected at Petrona Book Reviews.

This review is republished by the kind permission of Euro Crime.

“Yes, A Stalker Is A Person In Your Neighbourhood / In Your Neighbourhood …”

Being an appeal to the greater crime fiction reading public from the Crime Always Pays elves (deputation pictured, right):
“Ahem! Ahem-hem!” (There follows much clearing of tiny throats and jostling to get to the back of the deputation). “Every once in a while, an Irish crime fiction writer slips under the radar we’re supposed to be manning – elving, rather – to ensure that every Irish crime fiction writer gets a fair crack of the whip. Now, we’re the first to admit that it’s entirely possible that this is our fault, but what matters right now is that if we don’t get some info together on Leo Farrell, author of NOT ALL STALKERS ARE BAD, then the Grand Vizier, Declan Burke, is going to cut off our supply of patented Elf-Wonking Juice and ban us from hanging out in the dungeons with HR Pufnstuf and his magical hookah. And so far, all we’ve got is this blurb:
Stalking is a recognised psychological disorder. In simple terms it is the pursuit of prey by stealth for a purpose. In the case of Walter Slater, the prey was an accountant in his workplace. The purpose was to establish a loving relationship between them. The modus operandi was in breach of the law. Walter’s apologia chronicles his bizarre and lascivious stalking, stealing and data theft to obtain insider information to help him in his dangerous project to win the beautiful Sarah.
“As far as we know, Leo Farrell is a playwright, both for stage and radio, although NOT ALL STALKERS ARE BAD appears to be his debut novel. Can anyone out there help us fill in the gaps? We’d be very grateful. Without the Elf-Wonking Juice, life at Crime Always Pays Towers simply wouldn’t be worth living. And even if you don’t have any information, we’d appreciate it if you’d tell the Grand Vizier to lay off with the bull-whip. We thank you for your attention.”

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Mighty Quinn: Just Got That Bit Mightier

Ain’t technology wonderful? Courtesy of the statcounting doohickey the CAP elves use to justify their criminal indolence, it’s possible for the Chief Google-Watching Elf to keep an eye on the names people are searching for in order to arrive at our humble blog. The first two names in the Top Three won’t surprise anyone, being John Connolly and Ken Bruen, but the third name might. Take a bow Seamus Smyth, author of the cult classic QUINN and long-suffering beneficiary of CAP’s ongoing campaign to have QUINN republished (scroll down, scan left). Who’d a thunk it, eh? Now comes the news that the reclusive Smyth – Irish crime fiction’s JD Salinger, basically, albeit with 97% less bananafish – has written a second tome, which is currently abroad amidst the unsuspecting publishers of Europe. Consider it a particularly bloody bucket of chum dumped into shark-infested waters, and brace yourself for the feeding frenzy. Meanwhile, even as you read this, a detachment of commando elves are scaling the walls of Smyth’s remote mansion, their mission to return with a m/s copy of said tome or die trying. Our money’s on the latter – yon Smyth, he takes no prisoners ...

Looking Good, Feeling Belgian

The Unquiet Man, aka Gavin Burke of Technicolour Talkies of Hibernia, reports that IN BRUGES is to open the Sundance Film Festival on January 17. Directed by Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar in 2006 for his short SIX-SHOOTER, the movie features a pair of hapless hitmen – Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, right – on sabbatical in the Belgian capital after a hit becomes a miss. Despite the relatively tiny budget of €1m, TToH reports, IN BRUGES also managed to shoehorn one Ralph Fiennes into the cast – and while there’s no trailer available yet, TToH is featuring some handheld footage shot by a bystander while Fiennes was going through his paces. “In the background,” says the Unquiet Man, “and with the right kind of eyes, you can just make out Bigfoot.” Erm – you’re definite that’s not Brendan Gleeson, right?

Whatever You Say, Say Nothing*

It’s all gone a bit political today, people. First Ronan Bennett hauls Martin Amis over the coals for his comments on Britain’s Muslim community, and now the Belfast Telegraph reports that Sinn Fein is ‘supervising’ James Monaghan’s media appearances while he promotes COLOMBIA JAIL JOURNAL. Quoth the Telly:
Gerry Adams’ publisher has hit out at the “censorious approach” of the republican movement after another of his authors – Colombian fugitive James Monaghan – pulled out of promotional interviews apparently on the orders of the IRA. Mr Monaghan has told publisher Steve MacDonagh that he will not do broadcast interviews for his new book, COLOMBIA JAIL JOURNAL, which was published by Brandon Books yesterday. The book is Mr Monaghan’s account of his arrest in Colombia in 2001 with Niall Connolly and Martin McAuley. The three men were later convicted of aiding FARC guerrillas but fled the country while on bail and returned to Ireland. Mr MacDonagh, who also published several of Gerry Adams’ [right, with James Monaghan] books, said Mr Monaghan’s contract for the book had included a provision to promote it. But he said that shortly before yesterday’s publication, to his “complete surprise”, Mr Monaghan informed him that the republican movement had told him not to take part in any broadcast interviews. As a result, a planned appearance on RTE’s popular ‘Late Late Show’ was cancelled. Mr MacDonagh said his understanding was that the order blocking broadcast interviews did not come from Sinn Fein. However, he said yesterday he has now been told Mr Monaghan’s print interviews will be “supervised by Sinn Fein”. “As far as I understand Sinn Fein will choose which publications he speaks to,” he said. “That isn’t the way Brandon (Books) does business. […] We won’t take part in such a censorious approach. With our authors, we want them to be available to all the media.” The publisher said he was particularly displeased because he had a long track record of campaigning against censorship laws in the Republic, which were frequently applied against Sinn Fein. Mr MacDonagh withdrew his planned promotional campaign for the book but Sinn Fein scheduled their own launch in Dublin last night.
* With apologies, as always, to Seamus Heaney

Ready, Amis, Fire …

Just when you start to believe that today’s writers are only in it for the Ferraris and hot chicks, along comes Ronan Bennett (right). In a piece in Monday’s Guardian, the author of ZUGWANG takes Martin Amis to task in no uncertain terms for what Bennett believes are Amis’s inflammatory remarks about Muslims. Bennett, who was wrongly convicted of murdering an RUC officer in 1974, and spent 18 months imprisoned in Long Kesh, was subsequently arrested in London in the mid-’70s for the now-legendary offence of “conspiring to commit crimes unknown against persons unknown in places unknown” and tried at the Old Bailey in the so-called ‘anarchists’ trial’. Acquitted after defending himself in court, he has perhaps more capacity than most for the ‘imaginative sympathy’ he believes is lacking in the West for a persecuted minority. The gist, proceeding by excerpts, runneth thusly:
What do you make of the following statement: “Asians are gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they’ll be a third. Italy’s down to 1.1 child per woman. We’re just going to be outnumbered.” While we’re at it, what do you think of this, incidentally from the same speaker: “The Black community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” Or this, the same speaker again: “I just don’t hear from moderate Judaism, do you?” And (yes, same speaker): “Strip-searching Irish people. Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole Irish community and they start getting tough with their children.” The speaker was Martin Amis and, yes, the quotations have been modified, with Asians, Blacks and Irish here substituted for Muslims, and Judaism for Islam - though, it should be stressed, these are the only amendments. Terry Eagleton, professor of English literature at Manchester University, where Amis has also started to teach, recently quoted the remarks in a new edition of his book IDEOLOGY: AN INTRODUCTION. Amis, Eagleton claimed, was advocating nothing less than the “hounding and humiliation” of Muslims so “they would return home and teach their children to be obedient to the White Man’s law”. […] The views quoted by Eagleton first appeared last year, in an interview Amis [right] gave to Ginny Dougary of the Times. That they passed with virtually no comment at the time says a great deal about the depoliticised state of intellectual debate in Britain. While a great deal of media time and energy is spent discussing the latest translation of WAR AND PEACE or the artwork in the refurbished St Pancras station, there has been, with a few notable exceptions, a puzzling lack of effort when it comes to something as critical as expressing support for an increasingly demonised minority in our society. Martin Amis should have been taken to task by his peers for his views. He was not. […] This is a community under attack, and not just by novelists. By every official index, violence and discrimination against Muslims have increased since 2001. The victims of physical violence will always be a minority – although Asian people are twice as likely to be stabbed to death than they were ten years ago – but what the majority experience in their daily lives is much more insidious, the kind of coded rejection that in this more enlightened age takes the place of outright expressions of racism. And, of course, hanging over them are threats of control orders, curfews, arrest and extended periods of detention without trial. Just as the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act left the Irish community in Britain feeling like a suspect nation, so the infinitely more repressive anti- terrorist legislation – including 28 days’ detention without charge rather than the old seven when the IRA were active – of today intimidates, alienates and inflames Muslims. […] I can’t help feeling that Amis’s remarks, his defence of them, and the reaction to them were a test. They were a test of our commitment to a society in which imaginative sympathy applies not just to those like us but to those whose lives and beliefs run along different lines. And I can’t help feeling we failed that test. Amis got away with it. He got away with as odious an outburst of racist sentiment as any public figure has made in this country for a very long time. Shame on him for saying it, and shame on us for tolerating it.

Ronan Bennett wrote the screenplay of THE HAMBURG CELL, a film about the 9/11 hijackers. His latest novel is ZUGZWANG.

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

So don’t you play with Mia / ’Cos you’re playin’ with fire. HELLFIRE, that is, Mia Gallagher’s cracking debut tale, three copies of which we have to give away courtesy of the lovely folk at Penguin Ireland. First, the blurb elves:
On a midsummer’s evening, a young Dublin woman, Lucy Dolan, prepares for a showdown that will help make sense of a heart-breaking and brutal atrocity that happened thirteen years earlier, changing her life forever. As she waits for the arrival of the charismatic figure who is the key to the mystery, she recounts her life story – a rich and extraordinary tale spanning two generations of storytellers and deal-makers, fortune-tellers and gamblers, businessmen and warlords, and the people that feared, served and betrayed them. With each twist of this tumultuous story, Lucy revisits her childhood and early adolescence – trying to get her head around the things people do in the name of love and hate, greed and desire – and she pieces together afresh the events that led to the night that still haunts her.
Oooh, spooky. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just tell us if hellfire is:
(a) Quite warm;
(b) Really, really hot;
(c) Don’t be complete Herbert, the pope said there’s no such thing as hell anymore.
Answers to dbrodb(at) before noon on Monday, November 26, putting ‘Don’t be a complete Herbert’ in the subject line. Und Gl├╝ck, unsere Freunde …

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chick Lit Vs Crime Fic: Ding-Ding, Seconds Out …

A few weeks ago the Evening Herald asked CAP Grand Vizier, Declan Burke, to write a piece on why Irish crime fiction is overtaking chick lit as the Celtic Tiger slinks off into the dense undergrowth of globalisation. Hurrah! Then they didn’t print it. Boo. Anyhoo, here’s the skinny …

Crime fiction and chick lit may have more in common than they might think. Both are equally despised by the literary establishment, one for being too grubby, the other for being too simplistic and sanitised. Both are commercial genres, aiming to entertain. And both tend to tell stories about self-absorbed characters hoping for the one big pay-off that will set their world to rights. There is a crucial difference, though. Chick lit explores the needs and wants of a character who demands instant gratification, generally that of sparkler and an expense account. The crime fiction crew are after sparklers and easy loot too, but their stories tend to explore the social backdrop that has allowed their law-breakers to emerge. The chick lit gals are eyeing themselves up in a full-length mirror of your nearest shopping centre changing-room; the crime guys are down at the station, eyeballing the latest line-up of usual suspects through the two-way mirror. Still, there’s no denying that chick lit has given the Irish reader what they’ve wanted. Bling, glitz, shopping-and-fucking – the Celtic Tiger was a chick lit novel, albeit during a bad hair decade. The better women’s writers, Marian Keyes being the best example, were astute enough to give the readers what they wanted, while also advising them to be careful what they wished for. But for the most part chick lit novels are Jilly Cooper shop-n’-bonk knock-offs, describing a world that is Thatcher’s Britain 20 years late and more than a few dollars short. The worst sin? The homogeneity of it all. The main characters are almost always thirty-something singletons, frustrated in work and yearning for a creative outlet, the consort of a heartless man and on the lookout for a slightly straighter version of their gay best friend with whom to share their immaculate taste in fashion – hell, if there really were that many gorgeous, intelligent thirty-something singletons around, why would any man, fictional or otherwise, stroll up the aisle with just one of them? Meanwhile, one joy that goes with reading the new Irish crime fiction is its sheer diversity. Ken Bruen’s ramshackle post-modern detective Jack Taylor rambling the mean-ish streets of Galway. Tana French’s coolly lyrical police procedural IN THE WOODS. Gene Kerrigan’s gritty realism, whether it’s disillusioned detectives or psychopathic thugs. Brian McGilloway’s flawed but human Inspector Devlin. Ingrid Black’s take on the post-feminist detective. Eoin McNamee’s fictionalised investigation into Princess Diana’s death. KT McCaffrey’s crusading reporter Emma Boylan. Declan Hughes’s classic PI-inspired tales of Dublin 4. John Connolly’s spooky gothic-horror crime tales. Adrian McKinty’s hardboiled first-person killer Michael Forsythe. And those are just some of the novels that have been published in the last six months or so. The stories these writers tell have something to say not just about who we are, but where we’re coming from and going to. At a time when the Irish taoiseach is before a tribunal explaining financial irregularities, and not for the first time, Irish crime writers are exploring political corruption, the brown bag culture, the exploitation of communities for the benefit of individuals. If journalism is the first draft of history, Irish crime writing is redrafting it with its stories of abductions and rapes, murders and bank robberies, not just detailing the events but fleshing out in fictional form the kinds of people who make our newspaper headlines, and why. It is, perhaps, still too soon for Irish people to confront the reality behind the Celtic Tiger headlines. After all, no one wants to leave a party too soon, and there’s always one last glass of champagne to be found, even if it’s already losing its fizz. But the hangover is in the post. The clean-up will be starting soon, and there’ll be post-mortems demanded on exactly who broke the precious crystal, stole the family heirlooms and left an unspecified mess in the laundry basket. Some of them are already written. Check under ‘crime fiction’ in your nearest bookstore.- Declan Burke

This article did not appear first in the Evening Herald

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: SATURDAY’S CHILD by Ray Banks

Still on parole after his release from Strangeways, and half-committed to running a PI operation from the back of the Manchester gym run by his buddy Paulo, Cal Innes finds himself trapped between a rock and a rockier place when local hood Morris Tiernan asks him to track down a dealer who has done a bunk with a bag of swag from one of Tiernan’s illegal gambling dens. Problems enough for Cal, whose conditions of parole naturally preclude him from associating with the criminal fraternity, but when Tiernan’s psychotic son Mo takes a personal interest in Cal’s case, things quickly spiral out of control. Laced with pitch-black humour, SATURDAY’S CHILD finds us in the kind of territory Ted Lewis carved out in JACK’S RETURN HOME (aka GET CARTER) – literally, as the action moves to Newcastle – with boxing fan Cal more than punching above his weight in such illustrious company. But while SATURDAY’S CHILD is a masterclass in generating story via character, and deserves to be lauded as one of Britain’s finest examples of gritty noir, it’s Banks’ flair for character that allows him to sidestep the conventions of the genre. Utterly compelling, Innes is a flawed hero who confounds the classic trope of the tarnished knight – Banks, in concentrating on the flawed aspect of his protagonist, takes Cal beyond the horizon and into a whole new realm. Cal isn’t simply a good guy doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, as is often the case. His flaws set the paradigm of the story, spilling out off the margins and resonating long after the final page is turned. The conventional flawed hero will generally find redemption, no matter how poisoned it is, a redemption that allows him to accommodate his various and occasionally homicidal flaws, content in the knowledge that his unique talents are required if society is to sleep peacefully at night. But in pushing his painfully realistic creation to the limit, and beyond, of what is acceptable in a fictional hero of the crime novel, Banks poses tough questions about our willingness to swallow the sugar-coated pill of traditional crime narrative resolution, querying our desire to believe in tough guy equivalents of tooth fairies. If it’s simple answers that you require of your crime fiction, pat resolutions and happy-ever-afters, SATURDAY’S CHILD will prove a harrowing experience. This Saturday’s child doesn’t just work hard for a living; he’s working hard just to live. Bleakly, desperately funny, Ray Banks offers us a glimpse of what Samuel Beckett might have read like had he turned his hand to crime fiction.- Declan Burke

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Books: The Final Chapter?

Prescient words from our favourite Welsh blogger over at It’s A Crime!, people – Crimefic was actually chatting about Picador’s decision to cut down on its hardbacks in favour of the paperback market, but she could just as easily have been talking about Amazon's new Kindle device, as modelled by Jeff Bezos (right). To wit:
“I’m beginning to think that the changes afoot in the world of publishing will actually consolidate in the near future and it’s time to face the reality. Masses of paperbacks of short useful lives aren’t particularly environmentally friendly. Neither is their distribution mechanism. Those digital readers we booklovers shun with horror just might take off. The book as we’ve known it for so long may indeed become a limited edition and at a high price.”
For the record – not that you care, but now that you’re here we might as well toss in our two cents – we’re in the Luddite* camp on the Kindle issue, being of the opinion that books make for wonderful wallpaper, marvellous insulation, and, given that their basic design hasn’t needed to change for about 400 years, represent the most ideal blend of form and function since the wheel. As for hardbacks – they’re clunky, expensive and elitist. For fiction, anyway. Good riddance.

* In the interests of openness and transparency, it’s only fair that we point out that there are witnesses who can testify that CAP Grand Vizier Declan Burke once opined, aloud, that ‘yon email malarkey is only a passing fad’. So his opinion on any technological development should be taken with a Siberian mine-sized pinch of salt.

The Embiggened O # 1,219: The Stick Hasn’t Been Born Yet That Could Beat An Irish Stew

Ah, ye olde blogosphere. Wot karma-type larks, eh Pip? You’re nice to people, they’re nice to you … No sooner had we hoisted a post on Irish crime fiction’s Florida faction – aka Michael Haskins, under the great-grandparent ruling – than he goes and blogs about our humble offering THE BIG O, to wit:
“Think of the ironic humour of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder novels, and throw in the black humour of a Carl Hiaasen Florida-misadventure novel. Mix up the humorous, determined, demented heroes and anti-heroes of these two fantastic authors and (I’m not done yet!) toss in some hardboiled writing, a lot like Elmore Leonard’s, and you have Declan Burke’s writing. Think of it as an Irish Stew of writing.”
An Irish stew, eh? That’s us, alright: thick, gloopy and, y’know, nutritious … Meanwhile, over at It’s A Crime! Or A Mystery!, Crimefic has the latest instalment of her ‘Books for Christmas’, as recommended by page-blackeners of the crime fraternity. First off, the lovely Donna Moore – author of GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET – cheats disgracefully by mentioning THE BIG O in a quick round-up of the books she won’t be choosing, and then Brian McGilloway, he of BORDERLANDS fame, pitches in with this:
“If I have to pick one, I couldn’t, so I’ll go for two. For a new discovery, I’d have to say Declan Burke’s THE BIG O, which I read in one sitting a few months back. This is an extremely funny crime novel that takes Irish crime fiction in a whole new direction. Under the cracking comedy of the book lurks some very subtle and highly skilful plotting and prose. Declan’s just got a US deal, so catch THE BIG O before it gets any bigger.”
Blimey! With all that good karma floating around, who needs Elf-Wonking Juice? Thank you kindly, people – feel the love …

We Kid You, We Kid You Not

It’s a crazy, mixed-up, upside-down world, folks. Re-released in paperback last month, SURE FIRE sees Jack Higgins team up with Justin Richards to take a stab at the Alex Ryder market. Quoth the HarperCollins blurb elves:
The mother of fourteen–year–old twins Rich and Jade dies in a car crash and they are told they must go and live with their estranged father, who they have never met before. Neither the children nor their father get on, but when Rich and Jade witness him being kidnapped they are drawn into a dangerous crisis that could engulf not just their family but the whole world ...
But probably won’t. Meanwhile, Eoin Colfer (below) – whose work to date has targeted younger readers, via the Artemis Fowl series and the hopefully not for much longer standalone HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS – is planning to go after that pesky adult audience. Quoth El Colf:
“When I’ve finished [Artemis 6] I’m doing an adult thriller which I’ve been asked to, and I’m hoping to do that very quickly, as it’s quite short … I did a story last year for a collection called DUBLIN NOIR, which is part of a series called NEW YORK NOIR, CHICAGO NOIR, a fantastic series. And I thought ‘Oh my God, all these guys are famous detective writers’, so I thought ‘I’m going to do the funniest story I have ever written,’ and all of the swearwords that have been stored up over the years are going into this!”
And there was us thinking he’d been using Fowl language all along … Oh come on, people, it’s Tuesday!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happiness Is The New Black

Grilled by Mick Heaney in yesterday’s Irish edition of The Sunday Times (no interweb link, sadly), John Banville (right) plugged THE SILVER SWAN by waxing lyrical – in suitably gloomy modernist fashion, natch – about the conflicts inherent in writing crime fiction under his nom de plume of Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, to wit:
For one thing, these days Banville is revelling in the freedom afforded by his guise as a crime novelist. “On the brink of old age, I’m suddenly having fun,” he says. “I didn’t realise writing novels as so easy until I became Benjamin Black – you just sit there and make it up as you go along. I mean, John Banville will work on a sentence for half a day; Benjamin just goes, ‘Bugger it, that’ll do.’”
Nice to see Banville mellowing out last, eh? Erm, not quite …
“I needed to take a serious break from what I was doing,” he says. “The road I was on was too straight, and I had to take a side road. The John Banville book I’m doing at the moment will be slightly different because of Benjamin Black. The difference will be minimal but significant. I had to stop writing in the first person and start writing, as Beckett would say, in the last person. I needed a change.”
Okay. But surely now, with two Quirke novels under his belt, the crime fiction world is his oyster with Guinness chasers, right? Nope …
“Somehow, that genre doesn’t allow for humour. And that, if anything, would drive me away from crime fiction. It’s all so bloody gloomy and deterministic. And it’s because everything is moving towards a denouement, towards a close. Life is funny because there is no end to it, it’s an open joke. But crime fiction is not like life – it can’t be, because everything is going to be explained at the end. And that doesn’t happen.”
Laugh? We almost emigrated. Still, there is some good news, folks – Banville / Black “has already completed a third Benjamin Black novel, to be serialised in the New York Times, which took him six weeks to write …”. Six weeks, according to our crude calculations, being roughly what it takes John Banville to write an entire paragraph. Ah well, quality over quantity every time, eh ? What’s that? You want it good and fast? Bloody peons …

The Monday Review

It’s Monday, they’re reviews, to wit: “The novel is absorbing, atmospheric and moving, with all the characters, from major to minor, superbly drawn, and the writing is just lovely,” says The Guardian’s Laura Wilson of Benny Blanco’s THE SILVER SWAN … Over at Disillusioned Lefty, Kevin Breathnach is equally impressed: “Two years on, Quirke remains a great drinker and Black a great writer, too. But two years on, Quirke is a shrewder detective and Black, by far, a more astute composer.” Meanwhile, Marcel Berlins is all but overcome at The Times: “John Banville won the Man Booker Prize for THE SEA, but may be remembered just as much for the crime novels he writes as Benjamin Black. I do not imply that he’s dumbing down. On the contrary, he has applied his superb literary skills to a new genre, and discovered – as have his readers – that he’s a wonderful crime writer … Dublin’s clammy atmosphere and its oppressive social and religious mores are a convincing backdrop to a moving drama conveyed by a master writer.” Which is nice … The hup-yas are still piling up for Tana French’s IN THE WOODS: “This novel is not only a gripping psychological thriller but it explores the guilt, loneliness and anger of a survivor internally struggling to find answers … French’s characters are rounded and readable yet angular and uncomfortable enough to be believable, human and honest … her prose could easily be adapted for screenplay and her descriptions are, at times, beautifully cinematic,” reckons Claire McCauley at Verbal. Ms Angie, at A Series Of (Un)Fortunate Reviews, agrees: “IN THE WOODS by Tana French, an Irish writer, is an extremely well-written and well-crafted mystery novel … well written with an interesting and unusual setting in Dublin, Ireland, that quickly becomes a character in its own right in the novel. You won’t be able to put this book down.” And it’s three-for-three courtesy of dstuder over at Stories of Humiliation and Degradation: “This book, written by Tana French, was a captivating and, I felt, a powerful book … When I finished this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the next couple of days … An excellent book that I highly recommend but with a warning that this is not a ‘happy’ book.” Happy, schmappy … Back to Verbal for David Shiels’ verdict on Ruth Dudley Edwards’ MURDERING AMERICANS: “This is Edwards on top form. To be sure, she indulges in her pet interests, which some of her liberal critics may find a little too predictable … But Edwards is not one-sided when it comes to parody: even the Conservatism of the heroine is fair game. Some readers may even wonder if Troutbeck is a parody of Edwards herself.” Hmmmm, intriguing … “SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT is a fantastic book to lose yourself in the world of the unknown and of unthought-of possibilities. The tone of the book makes it a light read, yet it can still send shivers up your spine,” reckons Sarah courtesy of HarperCollins Australia Reader’s Reviews. Meanwhile, the audio version is floating Tricia Melgaard’s boat at Broken Arrow Centennial Middle School Library Journal: “Every once in a while a story comes along that is pure unadulterated fun. This tale by Irish screenwriter Derek Landy is one of those gems … Narrator Rupert Degas is flawless in his interpretation of the story.” Finally, Ronan Bennett’s ZUGZWANG is wowing ’em: “The prose style of his latest novel is even better than that of THE CATASTROPHIST: more edgy and evocative. The large number of suspenseful twists and turns may owe to the fact that ZUGZWANG was serialized as it was being written … But Bennett must have tightened the book since it appeared serially in London’s The Observer, and his taut authorial control is evident on every page of this gripping tale,” raves Martin Rubin at the LA Times, while Vikram Johri at the St. Petersburg Times (not the Russian one, sadly) agrees: “Bennett uses well-worn tropes of the thriller genre, but his atmospheric evocation of pre-Revolution Russia and the clever melding of chess moves with political subterfuge lend a genuine air to his treatment … The book’s bite-sized nuggets, riveting in their own right, merge into a satisfying whole.” Wot? Reviews of ZUGZWANG with no chess analogies? It’s enough to make a bishop kick a hole in his stained-glass window …